08 December 2008

(mostly) unfounded

Some ingredients I can only treat with a certain cautious reluctance.

Every now and then again, I come across something that strikes me as so odd, so entirely against the grain of what I have become to consider edible, that it just gives me the shivers.

And I am not talking about something generally off. I mean, as a kid I just couldn't imaging raw fish to be edible. I have been eating raw minced porc on bread since I can think, but fish was just... mind-boggling. And now I love sushi.

But I think that is cultural, and just a question of what you are used to eat in general.

No, I am talking about those single ingredients that just seem totally out of place and can not possibly taste good when you encounter them the first time.

Like licorice and anything containing pineapple.
Apricot jam in chicken stir-fry.
Honey and raw tomatoes.
Strawberries and pepper.

The list is probably endless.

Over the years, I have learned that those preconceptions are (mostly) unfounded, especially when such ideas come from people I usually attest knowing what they talk about. Still, I have to admit that there are some of those combinations that I do not dare to try on my own, as I have no idea what it's supposed to taste like, and rather wait and see if I can catch up on it in some restaurant somewhere.

The whole subject was brought to my mind the last weekend, during our annual cookie-craze, when a dear friend of ours completely balked at the thought of using lard in a cookie recipe.

Her wide-eyed stare, unbelieving and mostly hoping that I was only kidding, probably was met with equal surprise on my side that she was so stunned. It quite markedly reminded me that even among our most every-day things, even tiny details can seem quite freakish to someone else.

She trusted me eventually, but as unfortunately I am not immune to Murphy's law, those were the cookies that died in the oven. No chance for me to convince her that everything is fine and these are lovely cookies despite the lard.

Actually, they are quite common cookies in Germany, with many households having their own, handed-down-from-generations, absolutely bestest, version of it. They are called ox'-eye cookies, for the obvious look of them, in most parts of the country. Also, as in my family, they are known as what only roughly translates as the-longer-the-dearer, because they keep very well and become all the tastier with the time passing. (At least, that is how the legend goes, mine never last long enough to find out.) Our lard-loathing friend, of course, named them pig's eye cookies, because they were a) too small to be ox' eyes and b) were made with lard, of all things.

However they are called, they are crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth soft little things, they look just adorably pretty and the lard adds that certain je-ne-sais-quoi to both texture and taste that makes them even more irresistable.

And just to reassure you, no, they don't taste of porc, nor will your cookie box smell like you hid a slice of bacon somewhere at the bottom. Trust me, as long as I don't forget half the flour, I usually know what I do.

the-longer-the-dearer (pig's eye cookies)
(makes 50 to 60 cookies)

140g lard
140g butter
140g sugar
3 eggyolks
420g flour

jelly to fill
yolk to glaze

In a large bowl, mix the fat until soft. Add the sugar and then the yolks, one by one.
If the mix curdles, add a tablespoon or two of the flour, it should be smooth and dough-like already before you add the flour.

Add the flour, and mix until all flour is well incorporated.
The dough should be rather on the brittle side of smooth, a standing mixer is really usefull here. Try not to knead with your hands, as the dough will get too warm and the cookies won't be that tender then.

Cool for at least two hours, better overnight.

Cut the dough in small portions, rolling balls of each of them.
I usually make two large rolls of dough, each about two fingers thick, and cut them into pieces a finger wide each. That swiftly makes for a lot of nuggets that are sufficiently close in weight to each other.

Arrange the balls on baking sheets lined with baking paper, spacing them a little apart.

With the rear end of a cooking spoon, punch a dent in each ball, so they look like broad-rimmed bowls.

Pipe or spoon the jelly into the indentions. Do not overfill as the jelly will turn liquid in the oven and should stay inside their little basins.
We prefer blackcurrant jelly for this, but I think any jelly or marmelade that is not too sweet will do fine.

Glaze the raw cookies with beaten eggyolk.

Bake in the pre-heated oven at about 160°C for about 15 minutes, until they just catch some colour.
Leave to cool on the tray for a moment to cool before transferring them to a rack, as they are very soft and brittle for the first minute or so.

They keep nicely several weeks in a cool and dry box.

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